The Trustus Theatre is being haunted this holiday season, but not by the ghosts we’ve come to know from Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” That’s because this isn’t Ebenezer Scrooge’s take on redemption; it’s his business partner’s, Jacob Marley.
In this version, written by Tom Mula and directed by Patrick Michael Kelly, Marley (Kevin Bush) is condemned to a hellish eternity. He’s even given his own private tormentor: a malicious and hilarious little hell-sprite who thoroughly enjoys his work. Desperate, Marley accepts his one chance to free himself. To escape his own chains, he must first redeem Scrooge. So begins a journey of laughter and terror, redemption and renewal, during which Scrooge’s heart, indeed, is opened, but not before Marley — in this irreverent, funny and deeply moving story — discovers his own.
Kelly and Bush took time recently to talk about the upcoming performance.
Q: Patrick, what drew you to exploring Jacob Marley’s version of the story instead of Scrooge in the traditional version of “A Christmas Carol”?
Patrick: This play is just so clever and engaging. It appeals strongly to the imagination. It's a ghost story, so it's a bit dark and scary, but also warm and hopeful. We like to put a twist on the holidays (at Trustus Theatre) and this play fits the bill. It's always fun to look at a classic story from another angle.
Q: Kevin, how did you approach the character of Jacob Marley?
Kevin: I always approach a character from the script first and try to decipher what the author intended for the character’s purpose to be in the larger story. Then, taking as many clues as I can from the script, the character is molded in reaction to the other characters I interact with.
Q: So how did you set Marley part from Scrooge, since they are both penny-pinching old men?
Kevin: I had to identify with how our journeys are different in the play. Marley has already seen the punishment that awaits Scrooge. He has a a sort of compassion — at least for the horrible hell that awaits those like him — that informs his interactions with his old business partner.
Q: What made this story worth telling?
Patrick: The underlying message is beautiful and worth sharing any time of year, not just during the holidays. It has the same universal message that Dickens' classic novella does: human beings make mistakes, but we all deserve a second chance — a chance to change — and the cure for selfishness is kindness.
Q: What do you like most about your role as Marley?
Kevin: I love the challenge of digging into Marley and I love that while he is so cantankerous and miserable to other people, his vulnerability is equally as present. You want to root for him.
Q: Was Marley a difficult character to play?
Kevin: It’s Tom Mula’s script that has been the root of the challenge. It’s written in a way that pays homage to Dickens’ language, while also giving a sort of “flyover” to some unflinchingly horrible moments of Marley’s life that informed the cold person he became. And, on top of that, it’s designed to be a story that we as actors are both narrating and acting for the audience. The deck is definitely stacked, but that’s all part of the thrill.
Q: The importance of kindness is a great message. Is that one of the reasons the theater offers an “I Pay What I Can” performance on Dec. 2?
Patrick: We do our IPWIC matinees for every non-musical. It's part of our mission to provide greater accessibility to the arts and part of doing that is making sure that everyone can afford to come and see our shows. IPWIC gives everyone an opportunity to see a Trustus show regardless of income.
Q: How long have you both been involved in theater?
Patrick: I've been doing theater since high school. I did my undergrad at USC in Theater before moving to Chicago to pursue a career in it. I got a MFA from NYU Grad Acting and became a member of Actors Equity. I've performed in theaters in New York, Chicago, Maine, Virginia and South Carolina. Currently, I'm more focused on teaching, directing and producing. I teach theater at Midlands Tech and I'm a staff member here at Trustus.
Kevin: I’ve been on several theater stages in Columbia, but most of my appearances have been at Trustus, where I am part of their company of actors. I’m mostly known for doing musicals, but occasionally do roles in “straight” (nonmusical) plays.
Q: What do you like most about theater?
Kevin: I love the “extreme sport” aspect of doing a live performance. You set off on a partially unknown journey every night. Things go wrong, line delivery changes slightly, the audience vibe is always different — oh, and you have to deliver the script word for word — but the story still has to be communicated and hopefully deeply felt by everyone in the room. It’s an amazing feeling to accomplish that every night.
Patrick: I love the community and the tight bonds you forge with people you're working intimately and intensely with on a collaborative project. I love telling great stories and getting to learn about people and places and things and events in an effort to better tell those stories. When you make theater for a living, you learn new things all the time, studying history or exploring ideas, trying things and failing at them and trying them again or trying something new. It's an incredibly rewarding life.
If you go
Jacob Marley’s “Christmas Carol”
Where: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St.
When: Nov. 30- Dec. 22. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 20, 22; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, 13, 21; 3 p.m. Dec. 2, 9; 2 p.m. Dec. 16
Tickets: Prices range from $20-28. The “I pay what I can” Dec. 2 matinee is a minimum of $1, but more is always welcome.
Details: 803-254-9732, www.trustus.org.